Every sports legend has one. A moment in which he or she rises above all expectations, breaks through the shackles of mortality and becomes a sports hero. It’s this very moment that a legend is born. I was born on November 18, 1974, and as a strange looking baby my arrival had little public fanfare. On July 18, 2003, I was reborn as a fishing legend!
It was a blustery summer afternoon and my cousin Jeremy and I decided to brave the unfavorable weather and fish the so-called late bite. Inexplicably, perhaps by fate, we invited my dad to join. I say inexplicably because even in ideal conditions, he has the fishing patience of a five year old.
At the time, the prospect of hooking a sailfish seemed as likely as landing a mermaid.
As we left the dock my dad began laying the groundwork for a short trip. He had to go to the store, was expecting an important phone call, and most notably did not want to be struck by lightning. Jeremy and I ignored, even pretended not to hear this first wave of resistance because we knew there would be more.
After netting a livewell full of pilchards, we bounced out the inlet like a novice skier cautiously navigating a field of icy moguls while my dad moaned, winced and grunted his disapproval. We plodded offshore and within a mile spotted a bird. Jeremy and I quickly deployed three trolling lures, while dad questioned why we were fishing for a seagull. For the record, it was not a seagull, but a prized frigate. Regardless, the demon bird seemed more intent on leading us into a tempest than to fish. For nearly an hour we followed, seemingly deeper and deeper into a maelstrom as dad’s objections grew louder and louder.
Soaked from the combination of ocean spray and pounding rain, my dad finally ordered us back to shore. As I dejectedly took course for home I caught a glimpse of a livewell filled with promise in the shape of dozens of darting pilchards. The sight initiated both hope and defiance.
I nonchalantly told my dad, “I’ve heard some good sailfish reports. Before we go in, I want to try it.” I was hoping that my casual delivery would somehow soften the news. It seemed to work, as he offered moderate resistance, but not nearly enough to overcome the sudden enthusiasm Jeremy and I shared.
At the time, the prospect of hooking a sailfish seemed as likely as landing a mermaid. But I did hear reports that people were catching them. Amidst the building waves and heavy downpour, we setup our drift and floated out a couple of frisky baits. The depth finder read 120-feet…the supposed mermaid depth.
Wet, cold, hungry and annoyed, my dad reached for the keys and within seconds the boat was started. I was tempted to acquiesce and concede defeat. Yet despite all of the elements and unlikelihood of our quest, something drove me to press on. Still, I would have to overcome my dad’s persistence, which had now manifested itself in him being poised at the helm and bumping the throttles into gear.
“Dad, just wait a minute and I will catch a sailfish,” I said.
I hardly believed my own words, but like a battered boxer I simply wanted one more round. My dad responded to my ludicrous request like only he could.
“Fine…you have one-minute!” He stammered as he turned off the engines.
Then he began his countdown. “60, 59, 58…” “Dad, stop!” “45, 44, 43…” I tried to block out his rhythmic count, but it was impossible. “38, 37, 36…” And his pace was increasing. “30, 29, 28…” The booming countdown now faded like a distant echo as my concentration was fixed on the line suddenly uncoiling from my spool at an astonishing pace. “20, 19, 18…” “Dad, you can stop counting. I have my sailfish,” I said.
The instant I uttered my prophetic words the line came tight, the reel made its glorious scream and a beautifully lit sailfish erupted from the water. “You do! You do!” He shouted.
The only one more surprised than him was me. For the next half hour I battled my first billfish, all the while my dad excitedly snapped pictures as Jeremy coached me with words of encouragement. I finally brought the fish boatside and we proudly posed with our catch for a quick photo. As I watched the fish regain its brilliant colors, kick and swim off, I felt a sense of gratitude. It was gratitude not only for the terrific battle that I have come to appreciate in every sailfish I have fought since, but also for providing me with my legendary fishing moment.
My dad has fished with us countless times since, and on needed occasion, has resorted to his countdown tactic. So, in truth, that day and catch did become legendary…a legendary family moment. And there are no moments more important than those!